WESTFIELD – Public Health Director Joseph Rouse began his COVID update to the City Council on May 20 by saying he hoped it would be one of the last ones needed.
“We’re getting there,” Rouse told them, adding that the recent lifting of restrictions by Gov. Charlie Baker was originally scheduled for August. “Massachusetts is leading the pack in this country with case percentages Morbidity, testing and vaccine percentages are also good, the reason we bumped up lifting of restrictions to May 29. The mask order is not technically rescinded until May 29.”
He said there are still recommendations, such as unvaccinated people wearing masks when they can’t social distance, to protect themselves and other unvaccinated people.
Council President Brent B. Bean II said he’s been getting questions from the public about the council going back in person, and asked about the timeline and whether they could begin to meet in City Hall.
“I don’t think there should be any hesitancy to go back in person after May 29. There’s nothing that says that you can’t. It’s just going to be a matter of the body as a whole, if there are people still unvaccinated or hesitant to meet in person,” Rouse said.
Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski asked whether Rouse knew if the suspension of the Open Meeting Laws would go away after May 29. Rouse said the state of emergency will be rescinded on June 15, and at that time he thought the OML would revert back.
Finance committee member Richard K. Sullivan Jr. brought forward the appropriation of $30,300 from Free Cash for the first year lease payment of new vehicles for the Animal Control, Assessors, Health and Police departments.
Sullivan said the current vehicles are very old with significant miles. He said the Animal Control vehicle payment of $10,121 is for an F150 to transport larger and deceased animals. He said the police vehicle will go to the detective bureau, and will also transport the new drone. “We were assured the next four payments will be included in all operating budgets moving forward,” he said.
At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty said he would support the appropriation, but he would have preferred to pay for the vehicles outright out of Free Cash. “We have an extraordinary amount of Free Cash. We should be using it for one-time purchases that have a long lifespan,” he said.
Bean said he agreed, and also said there is still a lot of money in stabilization that the Council transferred in December. “We have to move some out,” he said. The appropriation passed 12 to 1, with Ward 1 Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli Jr. voting no.
The Council also accepted a grant in the amount of $180,495.00 from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to the Public Works Department for round two of the PFAS Design Grant for PFAS treatment projects for Wells 1, 2, 7 and 8.
Ward 3 Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane, who serves on the finance committee, said the grant is further reimbursement for eligible work that has been completed. She said Westfield is the only city to receive funding for both Round 1 and Round 2, for a total received of $385,000. She said the acceptance of the grant does not preclude any other reimbursement actions.
Also accepted was a donation of miscellaneous furniture from Custom Component Sales, LLC. Finance chair Ralph J. Figy said the owner is going out of business, and called to see if any city departments could utilize any of the furniture. He said several departments accepted the offer.
Figy also ran through the upcoming budget review meeting schedule for the council. He said there will be a Special City Council meeting on May 27, at which the mayor will present the budget.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for June 10. On June 14, 15, and 16, the Finance Committee of the Whole will meet with departments to review their budget requests, and vote on each request each meeting. Another department review meeting will be scheduled on June 17 before the city council meeting, and two more reviews are scheduled on June 21 and 22, if needed.
Figy said as of now, all of the department reviews are scheduled on zoom from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. On June 24 a reconciliation meeting is scheduled, followed by a vote to accept the budget.
Bean thanked Figy for organizing the calendar, which he said is never easy. “Glad you’re doing it this year,” he said.
At-large Councilor James R. Adams brought forward several appropriations from the Community Preservation Commission and recommended by the Legislative and Ordinance committee for rehabilitation on veterans graves and statues in the city.
Adams said all of the work to be done is under Gene Theroux, the city’s graves manager. “He has gone around the whole city and determined which monuments need repair and restoration,” he said, adding that Theroux feels the nearly $90,000 from CPC will “get our monuments back.” Adams said that Theroux is at the cemetery every day putting in his own time.
Adams made a second motion for an appropriation of $39,500 for gravestones at Pine Hill cemetery. “This is a separate motion because it’s a private cemetery. It also has many monuments that need to be resurrected and cleaned,” he said, adding that the city is realizing big savings by having Theroux and his volunteers doing the work.
“Gene has done an unbelievable job with monuments in our city. I feel it’s a great way to use CPA money. Gene is saving the city thousands of dollars every day,” Adams said.
Matthews-Kane said she would support the appropriation, and is really in support of preserving military and veterans graves. However, she said some of the gravestones are from early notable citizens of Westfield in private plots, and going forward, she would support maintenance of non-veteran graves only if all other avenues are exhausted.
She also suggested that the Pine Hill Friends group track down descendants and ask for donations. Both appropriations passed unanimously.